Good news / Bad news for basketball fans in the T-Dot........Bad News = 2009-2010 Toronto Raptors.....Good news = a wow-wow-wow 2nd round of the NBA play-offs......big-time match-ups.....exciting match-ups.....unpredictable match-ups..but we'll try!
#4 Celtics vs #1 Cavs
Boston got Kevin Garnett back healthy and got off to a 23-5 start to the season ....the remaining 54 games of the season produced a very pedestrian 27-27 for a 50-32 final record....Talk was that age had taken its toll and there was speculation of Rasheed Wallace being a player that came in and corrupted the Celtics once unmatchable effort and tenacity......I may eat these words but I have been a believer for a while that this team is a legit title-contender....I don't consider it alarming that this veteran team played the way it did in the regular season......this is a play-off roster....keep in mind folks that every play-off series KG has played in for the Celtics they have won (4 series en route to the 2008 Championship - missed last years playoffs due to injury - 1-0 this year)......This team has 5 players that avg double-digit points per game plus 9 ppg for 'Sheed and in the Miami series Big Baby Glen Davis averaged 9 ppg also.....the team defense switch has been turned to HIGH also....just under 10 steals per game in the Miami series
2008 the Celtics beat the Cavs in Game 7 of a classic series......this should be classic part II.....my only issue for Cleveland is that every move they have made with the roster since last year (and there were many - SHAQ - Anthony Parker - Antawn Jamison) was meant to improve their chances with an Orlando Conference Finals rematch....unlikely they would have imagined that Boston would slip to #4 seed, instead of #3 which would mean a Boston-Orlando 2nd round where the Cavs would likely avoid the Celtics all-together.....It's easy to make a case that any team with King James on the roster has a legit chance to win a play-off series....the Cavs are the 9th team ever to have back-to-back 60 win seasons so clearly much more going on in the Cleve then just Bron Bron....Jamison and Mo Williams did a lot of regular season scoring and they both produced big in the Chicago series, plus steady contributions from SHAQ, Delonte West, Anthony Parker, and Sideshow Bob (Anderson Varejo)
Classic part II goes to the Celtics in 7 (yikes.....if Cavs win series I could see them doing it in 5-6 games and making me look bad!!!)
#2 Orlando vs either #3 Atlanta or #6 Milwaukee.......series is tied with the Hawks and Bucks at 3-3 so as I write this I do not know which of those 2 will be Orlando's 2nd round opponent, but either will be eliminated by the Magic.....Hotlanta can score - especially at home, and Scott Skiles has his under-manned Bucks playing very well which is really respectable but do we give either team a chance of even pushing Orlando past 5 games?!?! Doubt it.......
#7 San Antonio vs #3 Phoenix
4 of the last 5 times the Suns were in the playoffs they were eliminated by the group of Duncan/Parker/Ginobli/ Coach Popovich
A lot is made of Jordan with 6 Titles vs Kobe with 4.....well how about Tim Duncan with 4 also folks....the Big Fundamental has been getting it done on both ends of the floor every night in his Hall Of Fame career
The Spurs with the Big 3 plus contributions from George Hill / Richard Jefferson / Antonio McDyess / DeJuan Blair / Matt Bonner are very comfortable playing a game where the scoring is in the 70's or 80's....in the playoffs the scoring typical slows as there is a premium placed on every possession so it becomes much more of a half court game which often become problematic for teams who use high-powered offense to beat you.....Mavs were just bounced 4-2 by the Spurs and in the San Antonio wins the Spurs defense held a Mavs team that averaged 102 ppg in the regular season to 88,90,89,87
We know the Suns run on high-octane offense and the maestro is Steve Nash.....Grant Hill,in his 15th NBA season, is playing in the 2nd round for the first time.......Suns hope to have leading shot blocker Sideshow Bob II Robin Lopez (8 ppg) back at some point this series...as good as Tony Parker is at driving and creating inside the paint the Suns will really hope that Lopez can return from injury to provide a guy inside who changes shots.....this offense went to at least 99 points in 5 of the 6 games in the Portland series, impressive as Portland is a very good defensive team.....Nash / Amare / Jason Richardson were all great during the regular season and great again in the Portland series but the Suns will need contributions from Jared Dudley / Channing Frye / Leondro Barbosa to negate the massive Spurs advantage in the paint where Duncan / McDyess / Blair / Parker could dominate the Suns counter of Amare (STUD but check the drop-off after that) Jarron Collins / Louis Amundson
I think the Spurs Championship mettle will be on display in a 4-2 series win
#4 Jazz vs #1 Lakers
The Jazz are the poor-mans San Antonio Spurs......good teams every year that compete every night and play hard-nosed for their leader Jerry Sloan......the effort and the consistency are similar to the Spurs but the Championships are not.....
DANGEROUS Jazz team......Carlos Boozer could have been a free agent last summer but he decided to use his Player's Option in his current contract and return to the Jazz for one more year....this is exactly the scenario he pictured/wanted.....if Boozer can play a pivotal role in slaying the dragon (Lakers are 2-time defending Champs in the Western Conference) then cha-ching, that will cement a max-$ contract for him this off-season
Jazz also dangerous because Deron Williams is the best Point Guard in the NBA.....just ask him.....truth is I don't disagree......this guy is a very good facilitator and he can create for himself very well also so the offense can't really struggle for extended periods of time.....in fact with Williams running the show the Jazz had an amazing 8 guys average at least 9.4 ppg this year....plus Ashton Kutcher (Kyle Korver) also added 7 ppg in the regular season and 8 ppg in the Denver series.....the Jazz scored in the 100's in all 6 games in the Nuggets series and were #4 in the NBA at 104.2 ppg
Kobe and Pau are great every game.....pencil them in for a big-time contribution every game.....but for me this is a Lakers team that will need performances from other players to advance....as the advantage is Utah's at PG let's start there - Derek Fisher / Shannon Brown / Jordan Farmar none of whom are consistent enough to get huge minutes in this series, but each night the team will need at least one, and likely 2 of these guys to at least help negate the Utah PG advantage.....Jazz also has an advantage with consistency from their 3 through 8 players in their rotation....meaning Lakers fans will have to hope that inconsistent players like Andrew Bynum / Ron Artest / Lamar Odom put it together 4 times before they lose 4 times.....we saw in Game 5 of the Oklahoma City series that when this Lakers team is motivated and focused they will still have the ability to tap-dance on an opponent.....Kobe/Pau are good enough to steal 1 or 2 games but the role players will have to match Utah's intensity (especially in Utah where the BEAT L.A. chants have surely already started) if the Lakers want to advance to a third straight Western Conference Finals
.........Lakers in seven............